Natural History


 

Wagler's viper and the snake temple at Sungei Kluang on Penang island, Malaysia

The Temple of the Azure Cloud, commonly known as the Snake Temple, is a world-famous destination for travelers that visit Penang island in Malaysia. Its fame is invariably connected with this snake species.

The image below was displayed on an old postcard from Penang. It shows the interior of the temple with hundreds of Wagler's vipers resting on twigs in vases and other ornamental accessories. Some people of Penang say that the vipers used to be found near the temple in high numbers.

 

Unfortunately, this "golden age" of high abundance of the temple viper on Penang has passed. A few animals can still be seen inside the building, yet, they are often not in a good shape (see our "health problems" section). We have observed that T. wagleri is collected by locals to regularly restock the population in the temple. Contrary to popular belief, the snakes do not feed on the eggs and other food items donated by visitors. Therefore, most of the animals probably starve to death. This is aggravated by the fact that fangs are removed from those snakes that serve for posing with visitors taking photographs.

 

Wagler's viper site: Natural history and husbandry of Wagler's temple pit viper Tropidolaemus wagleri

 

Taxonomic Position

A major taxonomic revision of the genus Tropidolaemus has been published (Vogel et al. 2007), but is still not concluded. The paper has been published in the journal 'Zootaxa' (see references below), which also describes new species of Tropidolaemus.

It will take a little time to include the taxonomic changes in this website. I will wait until all of the new research data are published and one can make proper judgement of the new developments. Unfortunately, again, males and females have been confused in image captions of this revision.

Species:

Tropidolaemus huttoni (SMITH, 1949)

Tropidolaemus laticinctus (KUCH, GUMPRECHT & MELAUN, 2007)

Tropidolaemus philippensis (GRAY, 1842)

Tropidolaemus subannulatus (GRAY, 1842)

Tropidolaemus wagleri (BOIE, 1827)

Synonyms:
Cophias wagleri BOIE 1826 (nomen nudum)
Cophias wagleri BOIE 1827: 561 (nomen nudum).
[Tropidolaemus] wagleri WAGLER 1830
Trigonocephalus wagleri - SCHLEGEL 1837
Tropidolaemus wagleri - DUMÉRIL et al. 1854: 1524
Trimeresurus wagleri - GÜNTHER 1864
Bothrops wagleri - MÜLLER 1882
Lachesis wagleri - BOULENGER 1896
Lachesis wagleri - BOULENGER's var. D - VOLZ 1904
Lachesis wagleri - BOULENGER's var. A - COHN 1905
Lachesis wagleri var. B - HOLTZINGER-TENEVER 1917
Trimeresurus wagleri wagleri - TAYLOR 1922
Trimesurus maculatus GRAY 1842
Tropidolaemus maculatus - PETERS 1859
Trigonocephalus wagleri, var. sumatrenis GRAY 1849
Trimesurus sumatranus (nec Coluber sumatranus RAFFLES 1822) - GRAY 1842
Trigonocephalus sumatranus var. - CANTOR 1847
Trimeresurus sumatranus - GÜNTHER 1858
Tropidolaemus sumatranus - PETERS 1862
Lachesis sumatranus - OUWENS 1916
Lachesis wagleri - DE ROOIJ 1917: 286
Trigonocephalus formosus (nec Trigonocephalus formosus MÜLLER & SCHLEGEL 1842) - GRAY 1849
Trimeresurus hombroni (nec Tropidolaemus hombroni GUICHENOT 1848, a subjective synonym of Trimeresurus philippinensis GRAY 1842 [now Tropidolaemus philippinensis] - BOETTGER 1886
Trimeresurus (Tropidolaemus) wagleri - CAMPBELL & BRODIE Jr. 1992
Tropidolaemus wagleri - WELCH 1994: 117
Tropidolaemus wagleri - MANTHEY & GROSSMANN 1997: 411
Tropidolaemus wagleri - COX et al. 1998: 23
Tropidolaemus wagleri - MCDIARMID, CAMPBELL & TOURÉ 1999: 349
Tropidolaemus wagleri - TU et al. 2000

Tropidolaemus wagleri subannulatus (GRAY 1842)
Trimeresurus subannulatus - BOULENGER 1894: 85

Common name: Wagler's Palm Viper, Wagler's Temple Pit Viper

Family: Viperidae, Serpentes

Distribution:

Brunei Darussalam;
Indonesia (Sumatra, Mentawi, Nias, Riau Archipelago, Billiton, Bangka, Natuna, Borneo/Kalimantan, Karimata, Buton, Sulawesi),
Malaysia (Malaysian peninsular and East Malaysia);
Philippine Islands (including Sulu Archipelago, Panay);
Singapore
Southern Thailand (northern range up to Puket and Khao Lak)

 

Phylogenetic data and interpretation:

Two genetic analyses of members of the Trimeresurus group and related genera (Tu et al. 2000; Giannasi et al. 2001) support the distinction between Tropidolaemus and Trimeresurus (see tree below: position of T. wagleri is indicated by blue arrowhead). Phylogenetic tree is based on sequence data for the mitochondrial 12s rRNA gene (Tu et al. 2000). Vipera russelii and Deinagkistrodon acutus serve as outgroups to root the tree.

The initial divergence of T. wagleri from the remaining members of the Trimeresurus group suggests that it is probably the most primitive species.

 

Population Systematics

Recent genetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA and morphological data suggest that there are at least two different groups of animals. The populations from Sumatra and Western Malaysia are distinct from those from Borneo and Sulawesi. These genetic results suggest that there are at least two species of Tropidolaemus, whereby the the name T. wagleri should be restricted to Sumatran/western Malaysian populations (Ulrich Kuch & Nicolas Vidal, Congress Evolution 2002).

Populations from Borneo, Sulawesi and Philippines have been designated T. subannulatus (Vogel et al. 2007). New species have been described in the Philippines (T. philippinensis) and in northern Sulawesi (T. laticinctus)

 

References:

Boie (1827) Isis van Oken, Jena, 20: 508-566.
Boulenger (1894) Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. (6) 14: 81-90
Brattstom (1964) Trans. San Diego Soc. Nat. Hist. 13: 185-268
Cox et al.(1998) Guide Snakes Rept. Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Cranbrook & Edwards (1994) A Tropical Rainforest, Roy. Geo. Soc. & Sun Tree Publ.
David & Vogel (1996) The Snakes of Sumatra.
de Rooij (1917) The Rept. Indo-Australian Archipelago. Il. Ophidia.
Duméril & Bibron (1854) Erpétologie générale Vol. 7/2.
Ferner et al. (2001) Asiatic Herpetological Research. 9: 34-70
Giannasi et. al. (2001) Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 19: 57-66.
Gopalakrishnakone & Chou, eds. (1990) Snakes of Medical Importance, National University of Singapore
Grossmann et al. (2001) Sauria 23 (1): 25-40
Grossmann et al. (2001) Sauria 23 (3): 21-34
Kuch & Vidal (2002) Congress Evolution
Leviton (1964) Phil. J. Sci. 93: 251-276
Manthey & Grossmann (1997) Amph. & Rep. Suedostasiens
McDiarmid et al. (1999) Snake species of the world, v.1.
Parkinson (1999) Copeia 1999 (3): 576-586
Pauwels et al. (2000) Dumerilia 4 (2): 123-154
Stuebing & Inger (1999) A field guide to snakes Borneo.
Tu et al. (2000) Zoological Science 17: 1147-1157
Vogel (2006) Venomous snakes of Asia, Chimaira
Vogel et al. (2007) Zootaxa 1644: 1-40
Wagler (1830) Natürliches System der Amphibien.